Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Cider Sentence Syntax

Posted by Neal on December 1, 2009

Doug and Adam have been learning about the tragedy of the commons this fall. Every year we pick apples at Lynd’s Fruit Farm, and also buy some of their apple cider. I can take it or leave it, myself, but Doug and Adam love the stuff, so much that this year my wife has made several more trips to Lynd’s to get more of their cider, until they closed for the season. We finished the last jug of it a week or so ago. One evening at suppertime, shortly after we’d opened that last jug, Doug was deciding what he wanted to drink. He considered having some of the cider, but then decided he’d have milk instead, so the cider would last longer.

“Go right ahead,” I said, “but Adam’s going to keep on drinking that cider with or without you.” Doug quickly changed his mind back to having cider with his supper. He’d already been sensitized to how quickly the stuff went. A few weeks earlier, we were nearing the last of an earlier haul of cider, and Doug asked incredulously, “How do we run out of cider so fast?”

“You guys keep drinking it, would be my guess,” I told him. It was true. If there was cider in the fridge, that’s what they wanted to drink, for breakfast, lunch, supper, or a snack.

“Hey!” I said. “Did you hear how I used a complete sentence as the subject of a sentence?” This was a little while after I’d done those presentations on parts of speech, phrases, and sentences for Doug’s language arts class, so I knew the topic would be fresh in Doug’s mind.

“Huh?” Doug replied.

“Yeah!” I said. “The predicate is would be my guess, and the subject is You guys keep drinking it, which is a complete sentence itself! Isn’t that cool?”

“Wow, you listen to yourself talk and figure that out?” Doug asked. “That’s amazing!”

There's a subject in that predicate!

I can hear it now: “Oh yeah? Well my dad can diagram sentences in his head!”

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7 Responses to “Cider Sentence Syntax”

  1. Hao said

    Off-topic from the language, but on-topic regarding tragedy of the commons, you can avoid a race to drink if you implement some form of catch-share like system for the cider. Alternatively, you could employ a limited access approach (cider for at most 2 meals a day) or change gear (smaller cups w/ no refills).

    Sorry about the fishery-laden terminology; it happens to be what I study. :)

  2. I do that too — I mean rewinding what I’ve just said and analysing it. Unlike any external observer, I have access to what I was *thinking* we well as to what I was saying. No corpus can ever give you that.

  3. There’s a comma between the subject and predicate when the subject is a whole sentence, is what’s interesting.

    And the simplest way to avoid a tragedy of the commons is to establish private property rights. Label some jugs “Doug” and some jugs “Adam,” and only allow them to draw from their own jugs. If you implement this approach next year, I’d be very curious to know how much longer the cider lasts.

  4. [...] “You’re thinking like a linguist!” I told him. Doug, meanwhile, was just as amazed that Adam could notice this kind of stuff as he was that I could. [...]

  5. [...] how one little word can change a sentence into a fragment.” I was remembering our previous discussions on this topic, and knew a teachable moment when I heard [...]

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